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Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Trump Staffers Are Freaking Out Even More Than Usual Right Now

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

Axios editor Mike Allen is a consummate Establishmentarian who has spent his career laboring to win the approval of elites in both parties. Yesterday, Allen published a column headlined “The case for extreme worry.” His observations are, indeed, quite worrying. “Checks are being ignored or have been eliminated, and critics purged as the president is filling time by watching Fox, and by eating dinner with people who feed his ego and conspiracy theories, and who drink in his rants,” he notes. “Trump’s closest confidants speak with an unusual level of concern, even alarm, and admit to being confused about what the president will do next — and why.”

It would be a mistake to overstate the change at hand. The Trump presidency has been a slow-moving freakout, every new episode representing a surreal extension of the unknown. Still, there is evidence that the chaos has increased in some important new way. After many members of the administration seemed to convince themselves last year that they had gained some control over their erratic chief executive, they see him slipping the restraints.

Here are some examples from the last 24 hours:

1. The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House staff has attempted to correct Trump’s mistaken beliefs about Amazon, to no avail. Staffers a “arranged private briefing” that “they believed debunked his concerns that Amazon was dodging taxes and exploiting the U.S. Postal Service.” But Trump continued to directly contradict what he had learned because, a source explains, “It’s not the narrative he wants.”

2. The Associated Press reports that Trump has grown tired of his chief of staff’s management, but also has not seen fit to fire him outright. Instead, “Trump recently told one confidant that he was ‘tired of being told no’ by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all.”

Of course, Trump is the president of the United States, and as such, outranks Kelly. Presumably he could keep his chief of staff informed of his doings, and overrule Kelly’s objections if he disagrees.

3. Trump’s advisers, despairing of their inability to educate the president, have taken to using television as the preferred vehicle for their tutelage. The Washington Post reports that Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program is the show of choice for this purpose. “Aides sometimes plot to have guests make points on Fox that they have been unable to get the president to agree to in person. ‘He will listen more when it is on TV,’ a senior administration official said.” Pirro duty is considered important enough that “officials rotate going on Pirro’s show because they know Trump will be watching — and partially to prevent him from calling in himself.”

4. Another report in the Associated Press describes Trump ranting uncontrollably in a meeting with military brass. “The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for ‘wasting’ $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years,” the report notes. At one point, a general interjected to inform Trump “that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2018 at 4:19 pm

“I went to prison for disclosing the CIA’s torture. Gina Haspel helped cover it up.”

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John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes in the Washington Post:

I was inside the CIA’s Langley, Va., headquarters on Sept. 11, 2001. Like all Americans, I was traumatized, and I volunteered to go overseas to help bring al-Qaeda’s leaders to justice. I headed counterterrorism operations in Pakistan from January to May 2002. My team captured dozens of al-Qaeda fighters, including senior training-camp commanders. One of the fighters whom I played an integral role in capturing was Abu Zubaida, mistakenly thought at the time to be the third-ranking person in the militant group.

By that May, the CIA had decided to torture him. When I returned to CIA headquarters that month, a senior officer in the Counterterrorism Center asked me if I wanted to be “trained in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.” I had never heard the term, so I asked what it meant. After a brief explanation, I declined. I said that I had a moral and ethical problem with torture and that — the judgment of the Justice Department notwithstanding — I thought it was illegal.

Unfortunately, there were plenty of people in the U.S. government who were all too willing to allow the practice to go on. One of them was Gina Haspel, whom President Trump nominated Tuesday as the CIA’s next director.

Putting Haspel in charge of the CIA would undo attempts by the agency — and the nation — to repudiate torture. The message this sends to the CIA workforce is simple: Engage in war crimes, in crimes against humanity, and you’ll get promoted. Don’t worry about the law. Don’t worry about ethics. Don’t worry about morality or the fact that torture doesn’t even work. Go ahead and do it anyway. We’ll cover for you. And you can destroy the evidence, too.

Described in the media as a “seasoned intelligence veteran,” Haspel has been at the CIA for 33 years, both at headquarters and in senior positions overseas. Now the deputy director, she has tried hard to stay out of the public eye. Mike Pompeo, the outgoing CIA director and secretary of state designee, has lauded her “uncanny ability to get things done and inspire those around her.”

I’m sure that’s true for some. But many of the rest of us who knew and worked with Haspel at the CIA called her “Bloody Gina.”

The CIA will not let me repeat her résumé or the widely reported specifics of how her work fit into the agency’s torture program, calling such details “currently and properly classified.” But I can say that Haspel was a protege of and chief of staff for Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s notorious former deputy director for operations and former director of the Counterterrorism Center. And that Rodriguez eventually assigned Haspel to order the destruction of videotaped evidence of the torture of Abu Zubaida. The Justice Department investigated, but no one was ever charged in connection with the incident.

CIA officers and psychologists under contract to the agency began torturing Abu Zubaida on Aug. 1, 2002. The techniques were supposed to be incremental, starting with an open-palmed slap to the belly or the face. But the operatives where he was held decided to start with the toughest method. They waterboarded Abu Zubaida 83 times. They later subjected him to sleep deprivation; they kept him locked in a large dog cage for weeks at a time; they locked him in a coffin-size box and, knowing that he had an irrational fear of insects, put bugs in it with him.

Rodriguez would later tell reporters that the torture worked and that Abu Zubaida provided actionable intelligence that disrupted attacks and saved American lives. We know, thanks to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture and the personal testimony of FBI interrogator Ali Soufan , that this was false.

I knew what was happening to Abu Zubaida because of my position in CIA operations at the time. I kept my mouth shut about it, even after I left the CIA in 2004. But by 2007, I had had enough.

President George W. Bush had steadfastly denied to the American people that there was a torture program. I knew that was a lie. I knew torture didn’t work. And I knew it was illegal. So in December 2007, I granted an interview to ABC News in which I said that the CIA was torturing its prisoners, that torture was official U.S. government policy and that the policy had been personally approved by the president. The FBI began investigating me immediately. . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more and it’s significant.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2018 at 9:48 pm

A disheartening report: New CIA Director Gina Haspel Oversaw Torture at a Black Site Then Lost Evidence of It

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Matthew Gault writes in Motherboard:

In another shake up in Washington, Rex Tillerson is out as the Secretary of State and President Trump said he will promote CIA Chief Mike Pompeo to the position. Trump has nominated Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Haspel famously ran the CIA’s first black site prison in Thailand during the early days of the War on Terror.

Haspel has tortured people, overseen the torture of people, and destroyed the evidence of said torture. A quick reminder—torture isn’t an effective method of intelligence gathering.

We know this because of cables the CIA declassified describing the torture. In August 2002, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah—former manager of a training camp in Afghanistan—and began to torture him at a black site in Thailand while Haspel was running it. The Senate’s infamous torture report also details the torture of Zubaydah while he was in Haspel’s custody.

“Subject began crying as he was told that we wanted information to stop operations against the U.S,” the cables read. “Subject was told he could stop the process at any time. Subject continued with his appeal that he has told all that he has and muttered ‘help me.’ Between 1250 and 1315 the waterboard technique was applied numerous times. Subject was put into a large box at 1317.”

To get a sense of Zubaydah’s treatment, the Senate report mentions his name 1,343 times in 712 pages.

On another day, “subject was led to the small box and shut in at 1349 hours…at 1412 hours, subject could be heard sobbing, which continued for some time.” When the CIA captured Zubaydah, he had two eyes. Now he has one. He was waterboarded a total of 83 times.

According to the Senate’s torture report, “CIA Headquarters formally proposed that [Zubaydah] be kept in an all-white room that was lit 24 hours a day, that [Zubaydah] not be provided any amenities, that his sleep be disrupted, that loud noise be constantly fed into his cell, and that only a small number of people interact with him. CIA records indicate that these proposals were based on the idea that such conditions would lead [Zubaydah] to develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness.’”

Haspel was the head of the Thailand site during Zubaydah’s torture, a position referred to in the documents as the “chief of base.” Repeatedly in the cables, the chief of base or COB takes a direct role in the torture. “On July 15, 2002, a cable providing details on the proposed interrogation phase stated that only the DETENTION SITE GREEN chief of Base would be allowed to interrupt or stop an interrogation in process, and that the chief of Base would be the final decision-making authority as to whether the CIA’s interrogation techniques applied to [Zubaydah] would be discontinued,” the Senate torture report explained.

At one point, the chief of base congratulated Zubaydah on a fine acting job and accused him of faking a mental breakdown under torture, according to CIA psychologist and torture architect James Mitchell. “Good job,” Mitchell wrote in his book, quoting the COB. “I like the way you’re drooling, it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.” Several former associates put her in the room at the time of Zubaydah’s torture. She signed many of the reports sent from Thailand to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

One cable detailed in the Senate report attributed to Detention Site Green’s chief of base read notes some opposition to the techniques: . . .

Continue reading.

A willingness to torture people is to my mind a sign of bad character, as is a willingness to torture animals.

Trump has declared that he wants the US to resume its practice of torture. He has also called for the entire family of any terrorist to be murdered (i.e., no due process). The US seems to be circling the moral drain.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 11:19 am

Inside Atomwaffen As It Celebrates a Member for Allegedly Killing a Gay Jewish College Student

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Too bad the GOP killed the report on threats from domestic right-wing terrorism. (They didn’t mind about the report on threats from domestic left-wing terrorism and allowed that to be published.)

A.C. Thompson, Ali Winston, and Jake Hanrahan report in ProPublica:

Late last month, ProPublica reported that the California man accused of killing a gay and Jewish University of Pennsylvania student was an avowed neo-Nazi and a member of Atomwaffen Division, one of the country’s most notorious extremist groups.

The news about the murder suspect, Samuel Woodward, spread quickly throughout the U.S., and abroad. Woodward was accused of fatally stabbing 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein and burying his body in an Orange County park.

The report, it turns out, was also taken up in the secretive online chats conducted by members of Atomwaffen Division, a white supremacist group that celebrates both Hitler and Charles Manson.

“I love this,” one member wrote of the killing, according to copies of the online chats obtained by ProPublica. Another called Woodward a “one man gay Jew wrecking crew.”

More soon joined in.

“What I really want to know is who leaked that shit about Sam to the media,” a third member wrote.

At least one member wanted to punish the person who had revealed Woodward’s affiliation with Atomwaffen.

“Rats and traitors get the rope first.”

Encrypted chat logs obtained by ProPublica — some 250,000 messages spanning more than six months — offer a rare window into Atomwaffen Division that goes well beyond what has surfaced elsewhere about a group whose members have been implicated in a string of violent crimes. Like many white supremacist organizations, Atomwaffen Division uses Discord, an online chat service designed for video gamers, to engage in its confidential online discussions.

In a matter of months, people associated with the group, including Woodward, have been charged in five murders; another group member pleaded guilty to possession of explosives after authorities uncovered a possible plot to blow up a nuclear facility near Miami.

The group’s propaganda makes clear that Atomwaffen — the word means “nuclear weapons” in German — embraces Third Reich ideology and preaches hatred of minorities, gays and Jews. Atomwaffen produces YouTube videos showing members firing weapons and has filmed members burning the U.S. Constitution and setting fire to the American flag. But the organization, by and large, cloaks its operations in secrecy and bars members from speaking to the media.

The chat logs and other material obtained by ProPublica provide unusually extensive information about the group’s leaders, wider makeup, and potential targets, indicating:

The group may have as many as 20 cells around the country, small groups of indeterminate size in Texas, Virginia, Washington, Nevada and elsewhere. Members armed with assault rifles and other guns have taken part in weapons training in various locations over the last two years, including last month in the Nevada desert near Death Valley.

Members have discussed using explosives to cripple public water systems and destroy parts of the electrical power grid. One member even claimed to have obtained classified maps of the power grid in California. Throughout the chats, Atomwaffen members laud Timothy McVeigh, the former soldier who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168, including numerous children. Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof and Anders Breivik, the Norwegian extremist who massacred 77 people, also come in for praise.

Woodward posted several messages in the days after Bernstein’s murder, but before he was arrested and charged. In one thread, he told his fellow Atomwaffen members that he was thinking about the “passing of life” and was “truly grateful for our time together.”

Woodward, 20, has pleaded not guilty in the Bernstein case. Prosecutors have said they are exploring whether the murder constituted a hate crime and detectives are now investigating what role, if any, Atomwaffen might have played in the homicide. Woodward and Bernstein had known each other in high school in California, and appear to have reconnected somehow shortly before the killing.

Law enforcement, both federal and state, have said little about what they make of Atomwaffen. But organizations dedicated to tracking and studying hate groups have been calling attention to what they regard as the group’s considerable threat.

“We haven’t seen anything like Atomwaffen in quite a while,” said Keegan Hankes, a researcher who tracks the group for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They should be taken seriously because they’re so extreme.”

Jeffrey Kaplan, a historian, has studied racial extremists for decades and edited the Encyclopedia of White Power. In an interview, he suggested that Atomwaffen is dangerous, but that talk in their propaganda and private conversations of aims such as toppling the U.S. government amounted to what he called a kind of “magical thinking.” Kaplan said such groups often contain a handful of diehards who are willing to commit crimes and many more wannabes who are unwilling to do much more than read fascist literature.

“It’s very hard to go from talking about violence to looking a guy in the eyes and killing him,” said Kaplan, a professor of national security studies at King Fahd Defense College in Saudi Arabia. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2018 at 1:33 pm

North Korea’s Growing Criminal Cyberthreat

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Dorothy Denning has a worrisome article in the Scientific American:

The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.The Conversation

The countries posing the greatest cyberthreats to the United States are RussiaChinaIran and North Korea. Like its counterparts, Kim Jong Un’s regime engages in substantial cyber espionage. And like Russia and Iran, it launches damaging cyberattacks that wipe data from computer disks and shut down online services.

But the North Korean cyberthreat is different in two ways. First, the regime’s online power did not grow out of groups of independent hackers. Even today, it seems unlikely the country has hackers who operate independent of the government. Second, North Korea’s cybercrime efforts—all seemingly state-sponsored—steal money that is then used to fund its cash-strapped government.

GOVERNMENT-CONTROLLED HACKING

One reason for North Korea’s apparent lack of independent hackers is that most North Koreans do not have internet access. Although the country has had an internet connection through China for several years, it’s reserved for elites and foreign visitors. Would-be hackers can’t launch attacks across borders; they can’t even pick up hacking manuals, code and tips from the many online forums that other hackers in other nations use to learn the trade and share information.

On top of that, North Korea maintains exceptionally strong controls over its population. Any hacking attributed to North Korea is likely done for the government if not by the government directly.

STATE-SPONSORED HACKERS

North Korea’s cyber warriors work primarily for the General Bureau of Reconnaissance or the General Staff Department of the Korean People’s Army. Prospective candidates are selected from schools across the country and trained in cyber operations at Pyongyang University of Automation and other colleges and universities. By 2015, the South Korean military estimated the KPA employed up to 6,000 cyber warfare experts.

North Korean hackers operate from facilities in China and other foreign countries where their government sends or permits them to work. Indeed, the country has reportedly sent hundreds of hackers into nearby countries to raise money for the regime. Many of the cyberattacks attributed to North Korea have been traced back to locations inside China.

FROM ESPIONAGE TO SABOTAGE

North Korea has been using cyber operations to spy on the U.S. and South Korea since at least 2004. U.S. targets have included military entities and the State Department. North Korea uses cyber espionage to acquire foreign technology, including technologies relating to weapons of mass destruction, unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles.

By 2009, North Korea had expanded its cyber operations to include acts of sabotage. The first of these took place in July 2009, when massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks shut down targets in the U.S. and South Korea. The attackers also used “wiper” malware to delete data on disks.

North Korea has continued to launch DDoS and disk-wiping attacks over the years, targeting banks as well as other military and civilian systems in the U.S. and South Korea. A cyberattack in April 2011 against South Korea’s agricultural banking cooperative Nonghyup was said to shut down the bank’s credit card and ATM services for more than a week.

In December 2014, the North’s attackers hit desktop computers in a South Korean nuclear plant with wiper malware that destroyed not only the data on hard drives, but also the master boot record startup software, making recovery more difficult. In addition, the attack stole and leaked blueprints and employee information from the plant.

North Korea has also been accused of trying to hack electric power companies in the U.S. and a railroad system in Canada.

THE ATTACK ON SONY

The attack on the nuclear facility took place about a month after North Korea attacked Sony Pictures with wiper malware that zapped over 4,000 of the company’s desktop computers and servers. The attackers also stole and posted pre-release movies and sensitive, often embarrassing, emails and other data taken from the company.

Calling themselves the “Guardians of Peace,” the attackers demanded that Sony withhold release of the satirical film “The Interview,” which depicts an assassination attempt against North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. The attackers also threatened violence against any movie theaters showing the film.

Although theaters initially canceled their scheduled showings, ultimately the film was released both online and in theaters. North Korea’s coercive attempts failed, as they have in other cases.

FINANCIAL CRIMES

In recent years, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2018 at 11:33 am

He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He’s Worried About An Information Apocalypse.

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Charlie Warzel reports at BuzzFeed News:

In mid-2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet — so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled “Infocalypse.”

The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around it was wildly unhealthy, Ovadya argued. The incentives that governed its biggest platforms were calibrated to reward information that was often misleading and polarizing, or both. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google prioritized clicks, shares, ads, and money over quality of information, and Ovadya couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all building toward something bad — a kind of critical threshold of addictive and toxic misinformation. The presentation was largely ignored by employees from the Big Tech platforms — including a few from Facebook who would later go on to drive the company’s NewsFeed integrity effort.

“At the time, it felt like we were in a car careering out of control and it wasn’t just that everyone was saying, ‘we’ll be fine’ — it’s that they didn’t even see the car,” he said.

Ovadya saw early what many — including lawmakers, journalists, and Big Tech CEOs — wouldn’t grasp until months later: Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable — to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments — so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact.

But it’s what he sees coming next that will really scare the shit out of you.

“Alarmism can be good — you should be alarmist about this stuff,” Ovadya said one January afternoon before calmly outlining a deeply unsettling projection about the next two decades of fake news, artificial intelligence–assisted misinformation campaigns, and propaganda. “We are so screwed it’s beyond what most of us can imagine,” he said. “We were utterly screwed a year and a half ago and we’re even more screwed now. And depending how far you look into the future it just gets worse.”

That future, according to Ovadya, will arrive with a slew of slick, easy-to-use, and eventually seamless technological tools for manipulating perception and falsifying reality, for which terms have already been coined — “reality apathy,” “automated laser phishing,” and “human puppets.”

Which is why Ovadya, an MIT grad with engineering stints at tech companies like Quora, dropped everything in early 2016 to try to prevent what he saw as a Big Tech–enabled information crisis. “One day something just clicked,” he said of his awakening. It became clear to him that, if somebody were to exploit our attention economy and use the platforms that undergird it to distort the truth, there were no real checks and balances to stop it. “I realized if these systems were going to go out of control, there’d be nothing to reign them in and it was going to get bad, and quick,” he said.

Today Ovadya and a cohort of loosely affiliated researchers and academics are anxiously looking ahead — toward a future that is alarmingly dystopian. They’re running war game–style disaster scenarios based on technologies that have begun to pop up and the outcomes are typically disheartening.

For Ovadya — now the chief technologist for the University of Michigan’s Center for Social Media Responsibility and a Knight News innovation fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia — the shock and ongoing anxiety over Russian Facebook ads and Twitter bots pales in comparison to the greater threat: Technologies that can be used to enhance and distort what is real are evolving faster than our ability to understand and control or mitigate it. The stakes are high and the possible consequences more disastrous than foreign meddling in an election — an undermining or upending of core civilizational institutions, an “infocalypse.” And Ovadya says that this one is just as plausible as the last one — and worse.

Worse because of our ever-expanding computational prowess; worse because of ongoing advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning that can blur the lines between fact and fiction; worse because those things could usher in a future where, as Ovadya observes, anyone could make it “appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did.”

And much in the way that foreign-sponsored, targeted misinformation campaigns didn’t feel like a plausible near-term threat until we realized that it was already happening, Ovadya cautions that fast-developing tools powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality tech could be hijacked and used by bad actors to imitate humans and wage an information war.

And we’re closer than one might think to a potential “Infocalypse.” Already available tools for audio and video manipulation have begun to look like a potential fake news Manhattan Project. In the murky corners of the internet, people have begun using machine learning algorithms and open-source software to easily create pornographic videos that realistically superimpose the faces of celebrities — or anyone for that matter — on the adult actors’ bodies. At institutions like Stanford, technologists have built programs that that combine and mix recorded video footagewith real-time face tracking to manipulate video. Similarly, at the University of Washington computer scientists successfully built a program capable of “turning audio clips into a realistic, lip-synced video of the person speaking those words.” As proof of concept, both the teams manipulated broadcast video to make world leaders appear to say things they never actually said.

As these tools become democratized and widespread, Ovadya notes that the worst case scenarios could be extremely destabilizing.

There’s “diplomacy manipulation,” in which a malicious actor uses advanced technology to “create the belief that an event has occurred” to influence geopolitics. Imagine, for example, a machine-learning algorithm (which analyzes gobs of data in order to teach itself to perform a particular function) fed on hundreds of hours of footage of Donald Trump or North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which could then spit out a near-perfect — and virtually impossible to distinguish from reality — audio or video clip of the leader declaring nuclear or biological war. “It doesn’t have to be perfect — just good enough to make the enemy think something happened that it provokes a knee-jerk and reckless response of retaliation.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2018 at 9:11 am

The near future: Autonomous killerbots from unknown sources

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This was all discussed in Daniel Suarez’s excellent tech-sci-fi novel Kill Decision: swarms of small (and inexpensive) autonomous killerbots. Here’s another view, via Jason Kottke (from a post worth reading):

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2017 at 10:01 am

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